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This year marks my 50th anniversary as a music teacher. Over the course of the last 50 years I have witnessed many changes to the ways in which music is taught. Not only changes to the teaching of classroom music to infants, primary and secondary students, for example, but also significant changes to the way in which instrumental music is taught. The changes to classroom music teaching are evident in the way in which many teachers of music have embraced in part, or sometimes wholly, the educational philosophies of musicians such as Jaques Dalcroze, Carl Orff and Zoltán Kodály. It is also quite common to see teachers adapting aspects of all three of these philosophies in conjunction with their own ideas, applying to their teaching methods the things that they know work especially well with their own classes.
The advent of the Suzuki and Yamaha schools, along with dozens of other approaches to teaching instrumental music, have altered the path of teaching, providing teachers with the guidance they need and often the repertoire they need to teach.
What I have come to learn in this time is that there is no one perfect method to teach music and no single solution which suits every circumstance. I have, however, learned that singing should be the basis of all music learning, irrespective of the method chosen. Dalcroze, Orff and Kodaly, were they alive, would offer a chorus of approval for this idea.
Before children can hold instruments, even simple hand-held percussion instruments, they can, given the appropriate assistance and examples, sing and reproduce pitch in some form or another. This requires the simultaneous learning of the texts of songs, nursery rhymes, games and the like, from which they build a huge repertoire of music they can perform alone and with others.
From singing they can also learn to analyse sound, learn to discriminate ways in which pitch and rhythm are used, learn how pattern and repetition work in music and subsequently build a vocabulary of sounds and ideas which they can use in their own compositions. Every child should have the opportunity to make his or her own music: it is the prime reason for teaching music in the very early years.
All this learning should be done in conjunction with movement from a very early age. The use of movement enhances all musical learning, as movement tends to assist the understanding of music’s essentially abstract concepts in a physical way, without having to find words to explain these abstract ideas. In short, singing and moving as early as possible in the life of a child will bear significant fruit in a special way.
We learn music because it is good. We learn music because it is unique. We learn music because it stimulates creativity at a very high level. No other reasons for teaching music are needed. If the Federal Government is serious about education then it should mandate music education in the early years of a child’s life. Australia has never been in greater need of creative minds.
The lines below from the insightful and erudite author and philosopher, Iris Murdoch, are lines I read often. I apply aspects of this philosophy in saying that music education doesn’t make you musical but may provide you with the resources to discover how musical you are or how musical you can become.
“Education doesn’t make you happy – nor does freedom. We don’t become happy just because we’re free – if we are – or because we’ve been educated – if we have, but because education may be the means by which we realise we are happy. It opens our eyes, our ears, tells us where delights are lurking, convinces us that there is only one freedom of any importance whatsoever, that of the mind, and gives us the assurance – the confidence – to walk the path our mind, our educated mind, offers.”
A truly educated mind has had music as part of its education. Every child in this country should have an opportunity to have a truly educated mind.